Obama and change…what it means for businesses

So Obama has won. What does this mean for businesses across the USA? What does it mean for the world in general?

Honestly I don’t know. The problems facing the president-elect are too complex for any single man to fix. Maybe life will improve during his term in office. Maybe the economy will completely fall flat. I just don’t know.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. This blog posting is more of a personal note.

There was a time decades ago when people didn’t assume every black man to be a criminal, thug, or gangster. We were just faces in the crowd like everyone else.

But the recent few decades of media stereotyping has caused people to imagine the worst of every unknown black man. It’s as if the public imagines every one of us grew up in some crime ladden gang town, we each speak with some weird southern drawl, and we each carry a gat Or two.

Not true. Heck, I had to look the word up. I thought gat was spelled gatt. Shows what I know.

Anyhow, I fail to fit imagined stereotypes.

I can’t rap [I can’t even stomach most of it — accept videos of Little Kim with the sound turned off ;-) ]. I can barely dance at all. I don’t care for most fried foods. And have never been arrested or jailed or even handcuffed.

But I have been pulled over by cops about two dozen times in my life. I have even been searched once as a teenager — all for no reason. Honestly.

Many of my white friends over the years have objected saying it’s not possible to get pulled over doing absolutely nothing wrong. Cops won’t pull a person over unless something illegal or suspicious is taking place.
Over and over again they say they can’t possibly imagine this to be true.

That’s because they’ve never experienced being stopped or approached while just driving, walking, jogging, bike riding, sitting in their own car in their own driveway, or while just sitting in their cars waiting for their kids to get out of school soon as the bell rings — despite the streets being crowded with other parents.

I have. All of the above and more.

Though I’ve never been in trouble with the law, have no unsightly scars and don’t even walk ‘black’ … complete strangers still act threatened by me. They fear me. Not just me. But black men in general.

How can I tell? Here’s just one example.

Women in grocery stores switch their purses to the opposite side of their bodies or run to their unattended shopping carts when I enter ‘their’ aisle…as if someone really would steal their unpaid for groceries. Give me a break.

And it’s not just in stores that people stereo-type me. I have experienced it online too. ‘I only requested your materials to see what an arrogant black man thinks he can teach me about business,’ was a reply I received anonymously on one of my web forms. No prior discussions with that person whatsoever. Caught me off guard when i opened my email.

Arrogance is so not me. I am one of the most soft-spoken and least confrontational people I know — of any race. To read such a comment is offensive. Especially seeing how the person who sent the reply didn’t know anything about me and admitted hadn’t so much as read or reviewed any of my materials before that. He just saw my picture on my home page and immediately clicked my contact form and shot off a rude comment to me. Why? Because my being black offends him.

So for a while after that I chose to ‘hide’ my identity online. I deleted images of me from all of my sites. Instead, I would let my words and abilities do the selling for me.

Was usually ok. Troubles sometimes popped up when I’d meet folks in person who I had previously only spoken with by phone. I could see the shock on their faces when I’d walk in and introduce myself. They had assumed I was white from talking to me on the phone.

(Ok. I admit it. In some perverse sort of way I kind of enjoyed seeing the surprise on their faces as they try explaining, I ‘sounded… er… taller’)

Oh. A while back a business owner called me after having first called a black, female professional I was acquainted with. He had no clue what I looked like. Knew nothing about me. Well during the call with me he kept going on and on that people like ‘us’ (him and me) are better than ‘her’ and her kind.

I told him I was black too. He called me a liar. He said I didn’t sound black. Then he started making comments about my supposed ‘better’ upbringing and likely mixed heritage that allows me not to sound black. I ended the call.

The point is, I don’t fit the description of what the MTV-generation believes a black man is ‘supposed’ to look, sound like, walk like, or act like. And despite this, people in public are afraid of me if not feel uncomfortable just because of my skin color.

Maybe now that Obama has been elected president of the USA, I imagine [I may be wrong here], people won’t have a knee-jerk reaction of ‘never mind, he’s black…’ when dealing with me.

About a decade ago I actually heard that comment from the administrative office of what was then a large, nearly billion dollar company.

Well, I had some work to do that took me there. When i was done and returning to my car I realized I had left something behind in their office. So when I re-entered the door the two staff members upstairs in business loft area didn’t know I had returned.

I could hear them say ‘never mind he’s black.’ Well, just then they turned and looked down and saw me standing there. They were visibly shocked. They tried to back slide out of the comment. Even tried turning it around to making it my fault if I become offended because they were speaking their mind honestly and is my fault if that is viewed as offensive, while they are being ‘normal’.

Funny I said nothing one way or the other. Just said I had forgot something, picked it up and left. So all the justifying they tried doing was on their own heads.

That did give me a different view of corporate ‘reality’. Not everyone is color blind. Fortunately for them few people will ever know of their prejudice comment. They can continue their prejudice in secret.

Not everyone is that lucky though. Some people tend to make more visible, more public fools of themselves. Check out some of these comments and backsliding about Obama’s blackness.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into politics at all [oh, how oh-so un-American]. But I am interested in tracking how politics and political changes in general affect businesses large and small. So I can continue to help business owners adapt to those changes.

The thing is, I view politics the same as I see religion.

I recognize it’s there. I respect everyone’s right to decide what they want to do. But on the other hand I feel religion is tolerable only up until it encroaches on the rights of others or breaks the law. Same with government. Obey the laws of the land, pay taxes, and do what I can to help my fellow man on a personal and individual level. But beyond that, I leave politics to the politicians.

What will come of the changes in politics? I don’t know. I am optimistic though [hopeful] it’s going to be cool to be black again.